Maybe the two of you met at a book launch party, and you snuggle and read Adrienne Rich or Enheduanna together every night. Maybe you bumped into each other at a bar and have never been in a bookstore in your life. Maybe you are just looking for more poetry to pepper into each new day you spend together. No matter what your reason is, we all need some queer poetry in our lives. We could all use beautiful ways to tell our partners how much we love them. From Sappho to Brenda Shaughnessy, here are some of my favorite ways that some of history’s best Sapphic poets have found the language and imagery to say “I love you” or “I would like to love you but I can’t right now so here’s a poem.”
1. I’m tired AF but I love you
Maybe it has been a long night, you’ve been out, you’ve been dancing, and by the time you and your girlfriend walk up the stairs to the apartment, unbolt the door, kick off your shoes, and shed off your clothes, you’re basically sleepwalking. As you lay your bae down and adjust her pillow you might think of Olga Broumas’ “Tryst” and tell her:
Action replied by action, peace by peace.
Take you in all light and lull you on a sea
Of flowers whose petals have mouths, mesmerized
centerfold, upsweep toward sleep.
2. I work all the time, my job is sucking out my soul, but I love you
Emily Dickinson has always been one poetry’s favorite and most sexually policed lesbians. The earliest editors of her work changed “she” to “he,” and even today some argue that every hint of sensuality or sexual rapture in Dickinson’s poems is actually religious reverence. But sometimes she is just the perfect poet for the mood. If you or your lovely has been working a lot, or she’s in a hotel for an out-of-town conference, or you’re working too late — again — you might think of letting these words light up her screen as you shake of the shackles of the job for moment.
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
3. You are so goddamn sexy, put on that dress I like, and I love you
Maybe you and your girlfriend are going out to a ritzy restaurant or you’re just setting the table with mom’s “nice china” for a candlelit pasta dinner at home. You’ve asked Alexa to play Zolita softly while you both put on your fanciest dress clothes, and when you’re finally done you turn to her and whisper these lines from Wu Tsao’s “For the Courtesan Ch’ing Lin” just to tell her how nice she looks.
On your slender body
Your jade and coral girdle ornaments chime
Like those of a celestial companion
Come from the Green Jade City of Heaven.
4. I want to CARRY YOUR CHILD and you look amazing in a button up and I love you
Maybe your girlfriend would never be caught dead in that kind of jewel-toned bedazzlement, but that doesn’t mean she still wouldn’t like to be read poetry. If you have been thinking about starting a family, Deborah Miranda’s “Love Poem to a Butch Woman” is the perfect poem for telling your butch girlfriend that you want to carry her child.
Sweetheart, this is how it is:
when you emerge from the bedroom
in a clean cotton shirt, sleeves pushed back
over forearms, scented with cologne
from an amber bottle — I want to open
my heart, the brightest aching slit
of my soul, receive your pearl.
5. I wouldn’t be me without you, you are a goddess, and I love you
Through her work Audre Lorde gave voice to the “unacceptable woman” on a wide cultural scale, especially “those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older.” But her poetry often centers the sensual, intimate relationships of individuals. They are not uninfluenced by those larger factors, but they are independent of them. Lorde understood how people grow and change through lust and love. “Recreation” is a poem perfect for showing your girlfriend just how she shapes you as a lover and a person.
you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
writes into your flesh
you make of me.
6. Sometimes I legit want to throw you out the window, but I love you
If the two of you have found yourselves fighting and reached the “Oh, no, what have I done?” part of the argument, a poem can be a lovely way to slow down, look at things from a different perspective, and remember the love. Brenda Shaughnessy’s “One Love Story, Eight Takes” is a poem for that occasion. It’s a reminder that love is always a revision.
I’ve invented so much and prevented more.
But, I’d like to talk with you about other things,
in absolute quiet. In extreme context.
To see you again, isn’t love revision?
It could have gone so many ways.
This just one of the ways it went.
Tell me another.
7. I am a raging lesbian, and need a poem to tell you that you scare me, but I love you
And then there are the times when you need to tell your girlfriend you love her in a different way, a way that encapsulates the sexuality, romance, and fear present in the best of our relationships. You need to say “I love you and love caring for you,” like Olga Broumas, and “I love you and I miss you,” like Emily Dickinson, and “I love how pretty you are,” like Wu Tsao, and “I love you so much that all my plans are with you,” like Deborah Miranda, and “I love you when you are sexy and liberating,” like Audre Lorde, and “I love you even though you frustrate me,” like Brenda Shaughnessy. Sometimes you just need to say as Marilyn Hacker writes in Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons:
Although I’d cream my jeans touching your breast,
sweetheart, it isn’t lust; it’s all the rest
of what I want with you that scares me shitless.